If there’s one name on the tip of your tongue heading into the Blue-White Game, it’s redshirt sophomore Juwan Johnson.
After spending his first season primarily on special teams, the New Jersey native hopes to build on a year where he caught just two passes for 70 yards. Despite the lack of game experience, everyone from offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to quarterback Trace McSorley has taken notice of the incredible start Johnson’s had in spring ball.
“We’ve had a great start to spring practice, the guys are developing, but specifically I think Juwan Johnson is having an unbelievable spring camp,” wide receivers coach Josh Gattis said. “He has really improved a lot, and when you talk about most improved players on the team, he’s one of those guys who comes to mind.”
Consistently referred to as one of the best performers in camp throughout the first few weeks, Johnson sticks out in the battle for the starting spot vacated by Chris Godwin. Johnson primarily served as a backup to Godwin’s role in 2016, but spring ball began with some uncertainty as to who would fill the gap.
DaeSean Hamilton, who moved to the slot position and allowed Godwin to be effective out wide, had the potential to make his move back and bring Deandre Thompkins into the slot. Irvin Charles was also someone touted to shine as part of the best receiving core in the Big Ten.
But so far, all signs point to Johnson climbing to the top of the depth chart with Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall.
On the field, the biggest notes come from his improved ball skills and ability to beat corners with solid route running. His sheer athleticism has also come in handy. With a 6’4″ frame and 218 pounds, he’s difficult to stop even when well covered — and able to win jump balls and muscle off defenders in tight coverage.
“Every time I go into the building to do some extra work, Juwan is there or leaving because he just got done,” tight end Mike Gesicki said. “He’s staying after practice, doing extra catching. On his off days doing stretching, getting in the tubs, and making sure his body is right. I think Juwan is doing everything in his power to reach the success that he wants to.”
It’s efforts like these that have earned Johnson one of the 30 spots on the team’s leadership council, making him one of just three sophomores selected to serve as the primary voices of the team. As he continues to grow, it’ll be the work behind the scenes — in the gym, after practice, and as a leader — that will push him toward his goals.
“All the success that he has in the future is going to be deserved,” Gesicki said.